Today, I am going to talk about friendship in general, and how much I have learned about its value in my life. Interestingly enough, I have also learned through the process of this transition how important it is to be a friend.
In our lives we have different groups of people who fill very important needs. Without them, we would be hard pressed to survive our daily lives. Occasionally, you will encounter someone who swears they can go it alone. They are full of it. By it, I do not mean wisdom.
With the exception of the rare ascetic hermit, we all need others on some level in our lives. Humans are social animals. We need to interact with others. Some of the people with whom we interact are structural. Police, firefighters, government officials, shopkeepers, teachers, bus drivers and the like all play important roles in keeping the world we live in running. We need them, but our relationship with them really isn't personal. Their function is social, in that they keep society running, but they do not fill our personal social needs.
Sadly, some of us are forced to use them as substitutes for the other people who should fill the roles of intimate social contact. Ask any bank teller about the elderly customers who find a reason to come into the bank twice a week just so they can stop and chat, or the bus driver who finds the same person getting on the bus and riding apparently to nowhere, day after day. These people are filling their need for social contact with whoever is handy.
In any well-rounded life, there are several concentric circles of social contact. Most people maintain fairly consistent rules regarding admission to these circles. We, of course are at the centre of our own circles. It is only in this centre that all of our secrets, desires, loves and hates are known. No matter how open the book of your life is, the only person who knows everything about you is you.
The next circle is occupied by different people at different times in our lives. Early on, it is our parents who are the ones who are close enough to us to know all that the world is allowed to know. Mom, Dad or both will occupy that place so close to us that they can tell we are sick before we can. They can see that we are sad even when we are smiling. Contrary to the beliefs of many teenagers, they know us well enough that when we came home drunk Saturday night, they knew. They just chose to not confront us about it.
Parents occupying the inner circle of their children is the only time in our social lives that we do not choose the occupants of our circles. As we mature, we begin to move our parents out of the inner circle and into the next level. This creates a void in the space closest to us. If we are lucky, we find a partner to fill this void.
Our partner will then become the person who knows all of our secrets and is there to fill our wants and needs. In the ideal case, we will fill that same role for them. I was lucky enough to have such a person for most of my adult life. Sadly, I was never allowed into her inner circle and the relationship wasn't reciprocal and ultimately failed.
The next level is usually occupied by the rest of our families throughout our lives. Starting with this circle, the boundaries get fuzzy. We all set our own rules for membership in our circles. If we come from a strong family, we will stay close to them. If our family isn't as strong, or if other circumstances, such as distance, restrict our family's ability to occupy this circle we begin to fill it with friends.
This is the value of friends. They can fill almost any part of our social circles as we need them. We can have them in the outer circles as we first get to know them and build our relationships with them. Then they can move closer when we need them. When we find ourselves horribly lost because of a sudden void in our inner circles, it is our friends who step in to fill the space. Sometimes they fill it temporarily, and sometimes the right friend will move into the innermost circle and become that partner who permanently fills the void. If we are good friends to others, we may be called upon to fill voids in their circles as well.
When my innermost circle suddenly became empty this spring, I was desperate for someone to fill it. I made poor choices early on. I asked my children to take on roles that are only really appropriate for close friends or partners. I trusted a person who I really didn't know too well and nearly spun completely out of control myself following this person through their online fantasy world.
As I stabilised emotionally, I came to know who my friends were, and began to gain many more by being friends to them. I now am blessed with such a lovely group of friends.
One of the difficulties with attending a College where the vast majority of the students are international is that at the end of the term, they go home. Since my master's course was only a one year term, almost all of my classmates have moved on to other things. Many of them half a world away. It has been extremely difficult to say goodbye to people who have provided me with so much emotional support through such a difficult year.
Saying goodbye has had an unexpected positive side effect. As I was recently mourning the exit of another close friend, I started to think about how bad it was that I was losing one of my best friends. I was worried about what I would do without her. Then I thought, well there is this person, and there is that person. Before long, I realised that I have four really close people right here in Dundee, two in Wisconsin, one in New York and one in California that I can rely on as friends to help me through any problem or crisis. That is in addition to my family. I also have my next layer of friends who may not be there at the drop of a hat, but would come through for me if they could.
I'm really blessed. These people include ones who I can talk to about anything. Some who need my support and make me feel valuable in that way. There are ones who are extremely wise, and others who need my wisdom. There are those to whom I can turn to ask the most embarrassing questions, and others I can trust to tell me when I'm making a fool of myself (I know a few people who would benefit from a friend like that). I know that one of them will discuss the most personal things with me, but I can't take out my contact lenses in front of her because she will freak out at the sight of my finger in my eye.
I have friends who I only see once a month, and with whom I have only a few things in common, but what we do have in common binds us together. I have friends that I have never met face to face, but who I feel as close to as I do my to my real sister.
The beauty of friends is that we can depend on each other for those things that we can provide for each other, and for those we can't, there can be other friends to fill the needs.
Some of these people have only been my friend for a few months, others have been there for years, although it was only recently that I opened myself up enough to realise what good friends they really were. One knew me before my transition and says she couldn't stand ten minutes with me as a guy, but now we spend hours on end talking about everything. We are really close.
All in all, I have an amazing life, full of amazing people. I have spent much of the last few months mourning what I have lost, and stressing over the uncertainty of my future. This ends up being a colossal waste of time. I have the people I need to fill the voids in my life.
There will be lonely times when I miss the companionship of having a partner. There are the times that the distance between me and parts of my family feels so vast it hurts. I am human and my life is not perfect, but many have it much worse than me. By being a friend and having friends, my life can be incredibly full.